The Shiites pp 59-62 | Cite as

Shiism in India: Historical Background and Cultural Influences

  • David Pinault


The eleventh-century Afghan warlord Mahmud of Ghazna was celebrated for his numerous raiding expeditions into India. A telling anecdote survives concerning one of these quests in search of plunder, in which he conquered the city of Somnat. Victory secured, Mahmud ordered Somnat’s Hindu temple destroyed. Thereupon temple priests came forward to save the shrine’s chief idol, offering the sultan gold as ransom if he would spare the statue. His officers were inclined to accept, but Mahmud prided himself on his orthodoxy. He had the idol thrown onto a fire; while the flames jumped up he declaimed virtuously that the meritorious fight against idolatry weighed more with him than gold. Yet as the statue burnt it cracked open from the heat, revealing a cache of jewels that spilled forth at Mahmud’s feet. So then, the onlookers knew, one could fulfill the religious obligation of combatting paganism and still be rewarded here in this life for the effort.1


Incense Burner Religious Obligation Early Sixteenth Century External Borrowing Indian Religion 


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  1. 1.
    Farid al-Din Attar, The Conference of the Birds, Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis, translators (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984), 160–161.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    John Norman Hollister, Islam and Shia’s Faith in India (Delhi: Taj Publications, 1989), 103.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
  4. 4.
    Saiyid Athar Abbas Rizvi, A Socio-Intellectual History of the Isna ‘Ashari Shi’is in India (Canberra: Ma’rifat Publishing House, 1986), vol. 1, pp. 251–252.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Hollister, op. cit., 124.Google Scholar

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© David Pinault 1992

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  • David Pinault

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